Sunday, 25 September 2011

If your appendix is at the front, where is your index?

It started in the early hours of Friday morning with many visits to the loo and Talluah cursing the crab empanada.  The maker of the crab empanada was also cursed, as was the person who caught the crab and I think at one stage the inventor of the empanada was cursed in the crossfire.

Talluah lay on the bed saying she’d never been so sick or sore in all her life.  My parents had eaten from the same empanada and didn’t suffer any ill effects.  Our neighbour had recently had a stomach virus and was subsequently blamed but as time went on it was obviously a very determined tummy bug and with a baby on the way it’s easy to let your imagination get carried away.   By Saturday morning Talluah said that she couldn’t take the pain any more and we needed to go to a hospital.  Medical care is always a concern when you’re travelling abroad.  We all think our own country’s hospitals are the best.  We called The Yellow House for some advice and they offered us a lift.  Sometimes private vehicles are a better option than calling an ambulance.  Fifteen minutes later, Martin turned up to take us to a private clinic in Valpo.

Talluah was attended to as soon as we entered the clinic and because she is three months pregnant they organised for an obstetrician to come and do an ultrasound.  For all the curious people out there, we don’t want to know the gender of our child and baby had his or her legs crossed.  Everything was fine with baby, strong heartbeat, right measurements and little arms moving around.   It’s a magical moment hearing that heartbeat for the first time.  The doctor concluded that Talluah had some sort of virus or infection and organised for some medicine. 

The pain relief that they’d given Talluah made the trip home bearable and Talluah returned to bed to recover.  Until the pain meds wore off and agony, which was described as worse than childbirth, started stabbing into Talluah’s abdomen.  She might be a featherweight but she can tolerate a lot.  To see her this way meant that something was really wrong.  We called the doctor again and he said we had to meet him at a different private clinic in Viña, which had more equipment to run tests.  He advised us which train station to get out of.  Talluah could barely think she was in so much pain.

My parents are visiting and Indy and Truce had some Granny time while one of my students drove Talluah and I to the Viña clinic.  We arrived before the doctor and were told that as foreigners we have to have a US$6,000 guarantee on our credit card.  We don’t have that sort of limit on our card and the clinic averages US$300 a night plus expenses.  They pointed us to the public hospital around the corner.

Talluah could only walk doubled over and didn’t complain once during the whole trip.  We arrived at the Emergency doors of Hospital Fricke and entered a packed waiting room.  A man, who may or may not have been under the influence of something, came to our aid and ordered the security guard to let us through, bypassing administration and straight to the maternity section.

The staff were super friendly but we felt like we were in the 1940s.  I don’t know when I last saw someone put a thermometer under the armpit.  Everything they used came out of a sterile bag but the place was dated.  We’re used to stainless steel and plastic, not steel and chipped paint.

They realised that the problem wasn’t pregnancy related and wheeled Talluah to Triage where we had progressed to the 1950s.  I’ve only seen glass vials with snap off lids in war movies but once again the staff were helpful and the doctor spoke slowly, for a Chilean.  That’s an average of 37 words a minute.  At this point I was doing the paperwork and Talluah was being examined.

And cue power cut.  Ten seconds of darkness before the generators  started up.  One piercing scream echoed through the hospital as a surgeon gave a push on Talluah’s appendix.  Thirty minutes later she was in surgery.

Two hours later the surgeon came out and gave me two thumbs up.  The first doctor came out and we spoke, mimed and clarified what had happened during the surgery.  Talluah had a perforated appendix and they removed it.  They let me go in and see her.  Talluah gave me a full recount of the operation.  They couldn’t use gas because she is pregnant so they gave her an epidural and she watched the whole thing in the reflection of the lights.  At around 12:30 a.m. she was put in the maternity ward where she has to stay for the next few days.

On Sunday morning I took the girls over to Viña so they could see Talluah and we could drop off some supplies such as tea bags and sugar.  Apparently it’s a bit of BYO.  I showed my visitors card that I’d been given the night before at the entrance of the hospital.  The security guard told me that the girls couldn’t go in.  I looked around at the car park behind me full of people smoking.  This is when I used the ‘B’ word but I don’t know if Chileans understand Bugger off!  A nice chap pointed me to the security office and I had a chat with the boss there who escorted us into the maternity ward where another guard told me the girls couldn’t come in.  I can imagine the tea break for the security guards while they chat to each other.  “¿Que es bugger off?”

There is a policy that children under 12 can’t enter the maternity ward.  Everyone but us knows this.  Apparently it’s because of the risk of infection being spread.  The number of adults we see here sneezing and coughing into the air is phenomenal.  We taught our kids from a very young age to cough and sneeze into their elbow.

Indiana was in tears.  She misses having mum around and she’s got the mother hen gene.  Talluah is in a ward by herself and a nurse smuggled the kids in for a few minutes and closed the door.  Indiana clung to Talluah while Truce in her four year old nonchalant asked about a breastfeeding poster on the wall.  All kids react differently.

Talluah will be in hospital for a few more days to recover.  She’s very happy with the staff and is in good spirits.  Donations of Spanish Villas, Learjets and holidays in the Virgin Islands shamelessly accepted.


  1. Very well written Ricky! Hugs and kisses to Talluah, she has been very brace. Glad to here she and bub are doing well! Desiree xx

  2. yes yes i meant to say brave.... :)

  3. Hi! I've been following along your blog for awhile now, but this is my first comment. I'm glad Talluah is ok! I was just at a private clinic here in Santiago for surgery, and I was also surprised that they kept taking my temperature in my armpit. We asked why but didn't get a good answer...they just told us that they don't take it in the mouth any more. I asked about the ear but the nurse had never heard of that! I hope she recovers well and I'm glad the care at the public hospital is good, if a bit dated.

  4. God, Ricky- it's all like a horrbile movie! From outdated equipment, to power outage- to not letting the kids in!! Glad it all came together, and that Talluah is doing well! :-)
    Bernie xxx

  5. Hi,
    I just want to know how is Talluah doing these days, did she went to the ER to see doctor Vera? I hope she is feeling better. It was a pleasure to met her and you (Ricky).
    And I want to clarify that the reason why we still take the temperature in the armpit is because those thermometers are much cheaper that the ones you use in your ear. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t know that there are newer and easier ways to take the temperature, in fact, in most of the clinics (private health) they take it in your ear.

    Best wishes,

    Medical student of Gustavo Fricke’s Hospital

  6. Hi Jorge,
    I tried to send you a message because I couldn't get back to the hospital to see dr Vera. I would have had to have gone alone and I didn't feel well enough. We didn't mean to imply that the doctors didn't know about ear thermometers the doctors we encountered were well trained and experienced and i don't think I would be alive and well today if they hadn't been. We can only talk about the two clinics we saw and they used the under arm method. A special thank you to you
    jorge for making my time in hospital so much easier.
    Best wishes

  7. oh my gosh! medical emergencies are scary enough without being in another country. Sounds like she´s much braver than i would have been! Glad she´s okay!